On Friday, the University announced that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace, two student groups responsible for organizing a number of recent demonstrations on campus, would be suspended as groups for the remainder of the fall semester.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) have been suspended for the semester, according to a recent announcement from Gerald Rosberg, Columbia’s Senior Executive Vice President of the University and Chair of the Special Committee on Campus Safety. The full text of Rosberg’s announcement can be found below.
The two student groups have made headlines in recent weeks for organizing a number of on-campus demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine, including a protest on October 12 and a walkout on October 26. According to Rosberg’s announcement, “the decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” This appears to be a reference to yesterday’s “Shut It Down! For Palestine” demonstration, though it is unclear whether SJP and JVP were the sole organizers of the event. Rosberg’s announcement did not clarify which specific policies were violated, nor did it elaborate on the instances of “threatening rhetoric and intimidation.”
Under their current suspension, the groups will not be eligible to hold events on campus or to receive funding from the University. While Rosberg wrote that the suspension would last “through the end of the fall term,” he later specified that lifting it would be “contingent on the two groups demonstrating a commitment to compliance with University policies and engaging in consultations at a group leadership level with University officials.”
In recent weeks, on-campus demonstrations have come with a noticeable increase in campus security measures, including an NYPD presence and the closure of most campus gates. During several recent demonstrations, campus access was limited to Columbia affiliates, with NYPD officers stationed at the open gates to check IDs. These measures received pushback from SJP and JVP, who wrote on Instagram that the closure of campus gates were “an unfair restriction on freedom of movement.”
Beyond campus demonstrations, in recent weeks, Columbia’s campus has also become the site of “doxing trucks,” bearing the names and faces of several students under the slogan “Columbia’s Leading Antisemites.” The trucks, funded by the conservative watchdog Accuracy in Media, targeted students who were members of SJP, the Muslim Students Association, the Arab Students Association, the Conflict Resolution Collective, the Palestine Working Group, and the Human Rights Working Group, among other groups. Though Barnard administrators later announced that CARES would assist affected students in filing police reports against the trucks, SJP later criticized the response via Instagram, writing that NYPD had not allowed members to file reports.
The announcement also comes after other University entities have received significant pushback for what faculty and students have called repressions of free speech and academic freedom. On October 30, faculty of Barnard and Columbia published an open letter to Barnard President Laura Rosenbury, condemning her statements on Israel and Palestine and writing they were “deeply troubled by Barnard College’s recent actions and communication, which undercut academic freedom and free speech.” The letter, which came after Rosenbury wrote in an email to students that she was “appalled and saddened to see antisemitism and anti-Zionism spreading throughout Barnard and Columbia,” received over 650 signatures from faculty, students, and community members.
Further, since October 29, SJP and JVP have been collecting reports of “bias and repression of free speech about Palestine at Columbia,” with a particular focus on repression ahead of their October 12 protest.
Concluding his announcement of SJP and JVP’s suspension, Rosberg wrote, “During this especially charged time on our campus, we are strongly committed to giving space to student groups to participate in debate, advocacy, and protest. This relies on community members abiding by the rules and cooperating with University administrators who have a duty to ensure the safety of everyone in our community.”
In a joint statement posted to Instagram Friday night, SJP, BC/CU JVP, and the national Jewish Voice for Peace organization responded to the suspension news, writing, “this is a clear attempt by the university to restrict the free speech of their students, who are bravely calling for a ceasefire and defending the rights of Palestinians. This censorship is not only cowardly, but is also an attempt to silence anyone who dares hold the Israeli government accountable for its war crimes.”
The statement also included a message for student organizers, reading, “To students everywhere who are using their voices and platforms to organize, protest, and stand up for an end to the ongoing genocide in Palestine: We see your strength, we are moved by your courage, and we stand in solidarity with each of you.”
On the afternoon of Monday, November 13, the two groups released a second statement, calling their suspension an “attack on free speech to distract from and enable Israel’s genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people.”
In their Monday statement, the two groups also shared additional context behind the suspension, writing that the University’s campus policy had “allowed protests during the week of October 7 due to ‘special circumstances for emergencies in the world.’” SJP and JVP held their first joint protest of the semester on October 12. However, the groups claimed that since then, the University has “repeatedly changed event approval policies and been deliberately vague about these changes,” calling their suspension part of the University’s “intimidation tactics” and “the latest instance of a pattern of censorship.” The groups concluded by writing that they “unequivocally [call] for a ceasefire, and will continue to call on Columbia University to divest from Israeli apartheid.”
Statement from Gerald Rosberg, Chair of the Special Committee on Campus Safety, on November 10, 2023:
Columbia University is suspending Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as official student groups through the end of the fall term. This decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.
Suspension means the two groups will not be eligible to hold events on campus or receive University funding. Lifting the suspension will be contingent on the two groups demonstrating a commitment to compliance with University policies and engaging in consultations at a group leadership level with University officials.
Like all student groups, SJP and JVP are required to abide by University policies and procedures. This ensures both the safety of our community and that core University activities can be conducted without disruption. During this especially charged time on our campus, we are strongly committed to giving space to student groups to participate in debate, advocacy, and protest. This relies on community members abiding by the rules and cooperating with University administrators who have a duty to ensure the safety of everyone in our community.
Senior Executive Vice President of the University and Chair, Special Committee on Campus Safety
Editor’s note: This post was updated on November 10 at 7:45 pm and November 13 at 7:30 pm to include up-to-date statements from SJP and JVP.
Featured Image via Bwog Archives